15 May 2018

East Africa: Militarization of Solutions [Podcast Transcript]

Photo: AU-UN Ist Photo/Stuart Price
Alleged suspects of the extremist group Al-Shabaab are guarded by soldiers of the Somali National Army in Kismayo, Somalia in October 2012.
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SCOTT MALCOMSON (VO): Welcome to Diffusion a podcast of Carnegie Corporation of New York. I'm Scott Malcomson.

AARON STANLEY (VO): And I'm Aaron Stanley.

MALCOMSON (VO): In this third episode we're discussing the militarization of peacebuilding, from Nigeria to Algeria to Somalia. Here's Obi Anyadike.

OBI ANYADIKE: We're seeing military intervention in the Sahelian countries. Primarily to stop Al-Qaeda, but also to stop migration. And we're seeing European Union involvement in the Horn, again about migration. And the rest of the Continent, who have no leverage over the West, can to a certain extent go hang. The whole idea of creating democracy and all those good things, and good governance, that seems to have been a bygone age now. That's forgotten. And now it's much more a security-driven agenda, which is about migration and about Al-Qaeda or extremism.

MALCOMSON (VO): We met with Obi, for many years a journalist at IRIN news agency, and Nanjala Nyabola, a Kenyan political commentator and independent researcher.

ANYADIKE: When I was growing up… Northern Nigeria is -- very much like Senegal -- is a very liberal, Islamic society, to a large degree. It was cosmopolitan. It was Sufi brotherhood-dominated in a sense, which is a more mystical, usually more liberal approach. And then we started seeing the influence of Saudi Arabia. And we saw that same process as we're seeing across the world, where we start being far -- it goes back to this idea of going back to our values. Going back to a very conservative understanding and reading of history and ideology. Across the Muslim world – you know, the amazing thing about Islam is it's transnational, and it always has been. In Sudan, you'll see descendants of Nigerians who went to join the Mahdi when he first emerged in the 19th century. And also because of the trade routes, as well. And that kind of breakdown of Western borders and boundaries: the umma transcends all of that.

MALCOMSON (VO): The umma is the Arabic term for the worldwide community of Muslim believers.

ANYADIKE: Nigerian Muslims have typically had a very strong connection to Senegal. Some of them have done. Because of the Mouride Brotherhood, so, and, these [were] kind of artificial borders. And I think: definitely Boko Haram was not an insignificant movement before it turned to violence. It had a following. They were seen as pious. They were seen as turning their face against materialism, which was the bane of Nigeria, against the venality of the Nigerian state, and it had a following. With all, perhaps, insurrectionary movements there's phases. Leaders come and go, and your tactics change. But at the beginning of the violence or the rise of Boko Haram they had a following within the Northeast, and perhaps further afield. They attracted university graduates as well. Who is a radical? It's -- as we know there is no one face for a terrorist or insurgent. Class and educational levels don't determine whether you're going to be a jihadist or not. So, that has been kind of an interesting mix. I think things might be slightly changing. As I say, leaderships come and go.

STANLEY: But changing in which way?

ANYADIKE: It can depend. Right now, I think we're at the level of coercion. I think there was an initial – there were supporters. Boko Haram was a grassroots movement and it had supporters within the mosques that they established. They were doing good works. Some could call it buying support. And I think that they had a following, who willingly joined Boko Haram. I think what we're now seeing is an increasing use of coercion, which changes the dynamic of the conflict as well. And I'm not so sure what the next metamorphosis will be.

NANJALA NYABOLA: It's like Alice Lakwena, the LRA. The first phase, there were people who genuinely believed in the ideology of this movement.

AARON STANLEY (VO): LRA stands for the Lord's Resistance Army, a group formed in the 1980s in Uganda by the priestess Alice Lakwena. It's currently led by Joseph Kony.

NYABOLA: If you read about the last 25 years, most people who are left, except for Kony, are kids who were kidnapped and have known no other way of living their life. And very little voluntary, like "Let me go and join this movement because I believe in what they stand for."

ANYADIKE: Exactly. And then it also - you start turning against the community you're meant to defend. As we've seen with the LRA. So, in essence you start punishing your own community. That's a split in Boko Haram, which -- it is split between two main factions. Shekau took over from the founder of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf. And he [Shekau] has been the face you see on YouTube, the crazed, bearded ranter. And his attitude was that, if you're not part of Boko Haram, then you're not a good Muslim, so everybody's fair game. Barnawi, who leads the other faction, is actually the son of Mohammed Yusuf. His attitude is that, is much more: let's be more precise in whom we target. The military is our target. Not fellow Muslims. And that has divided Boko Haram.

STANLEY: One of the narratives about Boko Haram that often comes up is the social inequalities. That it was a response to a level of, or lack of, social services in the north, and that's something that has kind of come up throughout our conversations is this question of inequality, because it is such a dominant narrative in at least the research and academic narratives: is that inequality is an extreme driver of conflict. How do you find that to meld into this narrative?

ANYADIKE: Yeah, I just, I'll draw back a little bit about, on that, to be frank. I think those structural ideas of poverty, of marginalization, I think they're too simplistic. And I don't think… They lack predictive power. And obviously, the point is that not every poor country is: You're going to become an Islamic terrorist. So, I think that you need to start looking at personal motivations and at what pulls people, rather. I'm not so sure I agree with the push factors. I'm more interested in the pull factors. And I think what we're seeing more clearly is that… There was an interesting study done by UNDP. Most research on Islamic extremism is: the models are Middle East and Europe. One of the few bits of research we have seen is by UNDP which looked at the tipping points for, after talking to -- is based mainly on Somalia, but looking at Sunni jihadists in Africa. And 70% of the people who join, their tipping point was when my father was arrested, or my brother was killed, or the security forces did something dire and terrible. And also, to sort of like tease apart the issue of extremism, you can be extremist, that's not necessarily a bad thing. What you want to avoid is people picking up a gun and shooting people. And I think there is a journey that takes you, there is a difficult journey, that takes you from saying that "I'm an extremist" to "I'm ready to pull the trigger".

NYABOLA: That's a great point I think, because there's been a lot of work being done with the relationship between Kenya and Somalia in relation to al-Shabaab. And that goes exactly to this point, is that, for the biggest group of people in Kenya who are joining al-Shabaab, who are leaving to -- many of them are not even Muslim. They are young Christian men, from non-Somali backgrounds, who are crossing the border because they have genuine grievances with the state, with police, with militarization, with their communities and things like that. And when you put the pieces of the puzzle together with al-Shabaab in recent years, what you find is they are much closer to the mafia – 'Ndrangheta -- than they are to a religious movement. What it is, is wealthy people who are able to provide these financial incentives to young people from different backgrounds. To cross the border and come, and you know the promise of $200 a day to come and live a comfortable life in Mogadishu, with the silent caveat that you will be dead in two weeks. So, there's been, when I read the--

STANLEY: [Interposing] But those are two different arguments. The $200 for a week, is an economic argument. Whereas "the police are badgering my family or we can't, we don't have a land permit, we can't get a land approval from the government" is different…

NYABOLA: In Kenya -- in this part of -- at least in East Africa the two are very closely connected. Because who is able to get justice is very much tied to your economic positioning in Kenya. I feel like a grievance model has more explanatory power, because injustice, to me, is a much bigger driver for people who cross to violent groups than inequality per se. Because there's so many poor people, who have been poor for generations, who have no interest in violence and who have no interest in joining violent groups, and in fact are the primary victims of these violent groups. But the people who feel like they're not going to get hurt, and who are going to die violent anonymous deaths inflicted upon them by the state. I feel that there is a lot more explanatory power in that.

ANYADIKE: Yeah, I think the framing -- we tend to forget about ideology and dismiss it. But I think when you bring God into the equation, it is a very, very powerful framing. So, and also it kind of simplifies issues as well. There's good, there's bad. There's "if you do this, you're on the path of righteousness and everybody else is wrong." And that framing is also something that shouldn't be neglected. Especially when you bring in the historical context. A lot of what we're seeing are conflicts which go back in time. Or people are using, deliberately marshaling, ideas of: when we weren't victimized, when we had power and had influence, and when we were respected. And I think that's also an incredibly powerful frame. But just in terms of, you know, when we talk about jihadist violence, we have to remember, it's a very small percentage of the population. So, a lot of it is: you joined because your friends have joined. A lot of it is your peers or your family. Some of it's adventure: "I'm bored, I'm in this town and nothing's happening." So, it becomes: those granular reasons get lost in the wash of these broader metanarratives, which means -- and those metanarratives don't help us solve the problem. So, what we're seeing in the typical combating-violent-extremism literature is that, basically, it's remaking the entire state. We're going to put in a lot of development money and we're going to start football teams who are going to somehow break… that is not how… for less than 1% of the population we're going to remake the state? You're going to shift all your development spending to -- and it's going to be the state that is responsible for the marginalization, the victimization, is going to be rewarded!

[Crosstalk]

MALCOMSON: And all the football teams will be Muslims. Like, everybody.

ANYADIKE: It really is problematic.

NYABOLA: If you think about Kenya and how much CVE money has gone into the Kenyan state, and you think about what that money has actually gone to do. There is a study that came out, I think it was MUHURI that did this, Muslims for Human Rights, or maybe it was Haki, I forget that: These reintegration camps, the young men who were coming back, and ended up in Kwale [county] and had the three months, whatever, and then were targeted for assassination by the police.

ANYADIKE: Or by al-Shabaab.

NYABOLA: Or by al-Shabaab.

ANYADIKE: And that's a problem with the Kenyan model.

NYABOLA: Yeah. No, but that's it. Where is this money going and what is it going to do? Is it actually doing what it's supposed to be doing? Are we rewarding a state that is actually parasitic to its people? You know, the attack that happened in Somalia, the one where they killed the 200 soldiers.

[Crosstalk]

MALCOMSON: You mean just the other day?

NYABOLA: Two years ago.

ANYADIKE: The Kenyan soldiers.

NYABOLA: The Kenyan soldiers. The vast majority of soldiers who were killed were Somali Muslim men. And the reward, quote unquote, that they've gotten from the state, is that they've had anonymous deaths, that they haven't even been acknowledged. All of a sudden the death and funeral announcements were sneaking into the papers, one by one. But the state hasn't even acknowledged that they died in the service of their country. They haven't even told the families, "We're sorry that this happened." But the military command is going to keep getting finance is going to keep getting finance, is going to keep getting support.

STANLEY: So you think that accentuates the problem.

NYABOLA: Absolutely. I think there is a lot of quiet… I'm speaking now as a Kenyan. There's a lot of quiet injustice that I think is, to me it should be the number one priority of any efforts that we're making to understand the political space in this country. We need to understand the frustrations that people are not, that are not getting articulated and that are not getting acknowledged as we bulldoze ahead with these grand political projects. What is getting lost in the shuffle? You know, when we think about the election that just went by and, you know, this idea that we have to keep Kenya stable, and keep so-and-so in power, or keep so-and-so happy, appease the big man. And the hundred people who were shot and killed and beaten to death by the police, nothing is happening. They're just sitting there in their informal settlements: "I've lost my son." I interviewed a young woman who, her husband and a father of her child was shot and killed during one of the protests - shot in the back. And his body was spirited away. And she could only speak for five minutes before she fell apart, couldn't continue the conversation. No help, no acknowledgement, no recognition that this injustice has happened. Those quiet injustices, those frustrating injustices are what people call back to in moments later on of political tension. They say, well you people did X, Y, Z.

Somali people in Kenya still bring up the Wagalla massacre, 1988. I think it was 1988. [It was 1984-ed.] Five thousand Somali men from the Degodia clan were rounded up and at an airstrip in Wajir [Kenya]. And many were made to lie on their stomachs and bullets were put in their back. Some of them died of hunger. Some of them died of thirst because they were in this hot airstrip for about, I think it was about three weeks or something like that. Five thousand men died. There's no official record of this event in the state until the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission. And that report [in 2013], many people tried to suppress it. The families have received no compensation. The families have received no state acknowledgement that, you know, "We did this and we're sorry." This is one of the things that some politicians were campaigning about in 2013. People remember these things. Even if the state chooses not to remember it. Even if the international system chooses not to acknowledge it. People remember these things. The victims of the Wagalla massacre are still alive. This 1988 is within my lifetime. What are they supposed to do with all of this anger? Where are they supposed to take it? What are they supposed to do with all this frustration? And that's why to me, to go back, is injustice. Can we think more articulately, when we think about international politics, can we think more articulately about injustice? And how people bear the scars, psychologically, physically, of the injustices that we choose to ignore?

STANLEY: What's kind of the balance between a need for some level of security, in a harder sense, and then addressing security challenges through social injustice, through development, in certain cases?

ANYADIKE: Just on the CVE issue, just quickly. It has become a little bit of a gravy train. Every project gets re-hatted as CVE. We have no evidence that CVE works. We tend to see everything in terms of just reheating old development policies. So, there is an issue around targeting as well. But primarily we don't know if it works and maybe the issue is not about preventing or combating violent extremism. Maybe it's just disengaging. As I said earlier, what you want to avoid is someone picking up a gun or letting off an explosion. I think you can, that in a sense seems more successful. The idea that you disengage someone from violence. Then you try to reprogram them and make them -- deradicalize them. Which we have no evidence as I said earlier, that that works. And no one really knows how to do it.

And what we're also seeing, is that in the CVE space, we're seeing people who are in the counterterrorism space, now moving with alacrity into the CVE space. So, what was being learned in Afghanistan, is now being reapplied, but re-hatted as CVE. And that money has just been reprogrammed into CVE.

I think part of the issue is that African security forces need to do their job. I'm not a complete pacifist. You need to have security forces that are professional and able to fulfill their functions. More importantly, you need to have a police service that is able to perform its basic functions. Which we don't have. Our police forces are underfunded, undermanned, understaffed. They don't have even the most basic of forensic skills. This is a policing issue before it's a military issue. It's a policing issue. You should be able to identify people early and not take them to a police station and torture them. Because as we've seen time and time again, that's just creating yet more radicalism. What we're seeing in Northeast Nigeria is a military that blunders around, burns down villages, rounds up young men and brutalizes them there and then or throws them into detention where they're kept for God knows how long. And there is no intelligence value whatsoever, but you are creating the conditions. Vengeance is a very powerful motivating force among young radical men and women.

STANLEY: That seems to go back to what you were saying before, about some of the drivers actually being the mistreatment by the police, or mistreatment of a family member in some way. And that kind of injustice by the state that you both were speaking about. So it sounds like it almost perpetuates that same idea consistently.

ANYADIKE: I think we're taught, we're trying to get to the issue of: Is there a military response that works? I mean, clearly drone strikes don't, and we've seen that time and time again. The other problem of a militarized response is, it becomes where the military and the political class become part of the issue as well. We've seen that in Algeria. We saw that perhaps, the security forces there who are making money out of smuggling networks, who were somehow in that dark side of the economy, in a sense where making common cause with GIA, with the extremist movement. So sometimes the military response just displaces the problem. So, we had this incredible violence in Algeria. Incredibly brutal violence, almost ritual in its nastiness. And at the end of the day, the remnants of the Islamic movement just displaced themselves to Mali. We just didn't solve the problem, we just shifted the problem elsewhere. And we can see that happening in the Horn as well.

NYABOLA: Yeah. And you think about the report that came out about sugar smuggling through Somalia. It's the Kenyan senior military officials in bed with al-Shabaab, with charcoal smuggling and sugar smuggling. And what that is is an exportation of this domestic rot, really, within… The military is a big financial black hole in Kenya. Until last week, I think week before last, we had a court decision that said you can't do this anymore, but until then, on the budget, the military had one line, and it basically said, defense spending. And it was billions of shillings, and that's it. You don't get, the auditor general didn't get to ask any more questions. And the court said that's absurd. You can't do that. Of course, you have to explain.

MALCOMSON: It's like a menu with only one item.

NYABOLA: Until then, really it was one of the largest, at least per capita, budget items in the Kenyan budget. And it was just money going into this black hole. And then you have these stories of generals smuggling charcoal and smuggling the sugar through Somalia. And the brutality with which – it's now AMISOM, so it involves soldiers from Burundi and from Uganda, but the biggest chunk of it is Kenyan soldiers. And the stories that Somali people have of brutality that they're suffering at the hands of AMISOM in retribution for the various attacks that al-Shabaab is conducting. It doesn't, it's not making, it's not endearing the Somali people to Kenya or to AMISOM. If anything, it's polarizing them even further.

But, you know, the military is a blunt force. And it's a blunt force instrument. In Kenya, certainly, the militarization of the response, this counter-terrorist response, this permitting the military to operate domestically. … This happened two years ago. Permitting the Kenyan military to provide domestic security has made things worse in much of the country. And especially in, as I mentioned in the beginning, the frontier counties, the ones that are by the border. Giving the military the ability to round up young people arbitrarily, disappear them. You're supposed to arrest a person, and then put them in the police station, and get what we call an OB number, occurrence book number. But what's happening is that people are being taken. There was one 16-year-old boy who was herding goats in Mandera and he was taken. And he was not at the police station. He was at a military camp. And he disappeared to the camp system and popped up again, at a larger military camp I think in Mombassa. When things like that happen, because that's the way that the military knows how to operate, and it's not a fine-tuned instrument. What you would have preferred to do was to have proper policing and to have someone, a social worker, be able to go and find this boy, and someone to accompany them through the judicial process. So that even if you are operating under suspicion, you're providing clarity and transparency that allows the family to feel seen and/or heard. That's not happening because that's not the ethos under which the armed forces have been accustomed to operating within. And in many ways it's making things, especially in the northern counties -- Mandera, Wajir, Garissa -- making things much more difficult. You now cannot drive outside between Garissa and Dadaab -- Dadaab refugee camp -- which is about 200 kilometers. You can't make that drive without a police escort and without an armed escort anymore. You used to be able to do that until fairly recently.

ANYADIKE: The other tragedy of the Kenyan example is that there is a policy but no program in terms of returnees. Al-Shabaab who are willingly surrendering, want to take amnesty and come back to Kenya, the police haven't been told: Stop killing them. And al-Shabaab is in the communities and is also killing them. So, we have examples of people who have come back, tried to surrender, and felt it so unsafe, so unsure, that they've gone back to Somalia. And we've seen that this can work in Somalia. I think the Baidoa and --

NYABOLA: [Interposing] In Tanzania, as well. The returnees from Tanzania. They're getting reintegrated, somewhat, fairly well.

ANYADIKE: In Somalia, it seems to be one approach where it becomes a counterinsurgency tool in itself. You're saying over the radio, "Come, you'll be treated fine, you can start a training program, you'd be okay." And also what we have to bear in mind is that al-Shabaab is part of the fabric of the Somali society, it's not an implant. People are conservative Muslims. Al-Shabaab had played an important role in its early manifestation as a nationalist force that was fighting against Ethiopian domination and trying to disarm the clans. But what we're seeing is that when it comes to reintegration, if you don't talk to the communities, then you have a problem. And what we're seeing is that we have Boko Haram guys who have surrendered, and gone through some kind of deradicalization program, but they can't go back to their communities. Because the communities are refusing to accept them. And I think that is part of the, how do we defang or how do we disarm ideologically some of these movements. And I think it does come from the community. There was community support, as in Somalia. There was community support in Nigeria for Boko Haram. But over the years, as this movement became so violent, so punitive, the community turned against them. And I think that's the kind of pressure, then you start saying, are you really a true Muslim? Are you a proper Muslim when you are, you know, killing your own people? And I think when you start questioning the ideological underpinnings of these movements, the logic of it starts falling apart.

And that's when you can have a breakthrough. And it's not through the military response. But it could be through some smart political thinking. It could be through smart strategy. But that I think is a more effective way, that the community says: No. And in a sense the movement has to make a decision: Who is the real enemy now?

Which takes us to, what can we as a continent do? And I think there are examples of, I think what happened -- ECOWAS in Gambia was wonderful. That a military intervention occurred that allowed the rightful winner of an election to be sworn in. And the president was hustled off to exile in Equatorial Guinea. Increasingly those sorts of countries, like Equatorial Guinea, are fading away. We don't see the Bokassas so much. We don't see those Idi Amin type characters. I think I see progress.

MALCOMSON: The next episode of this podcast will be on the African Union.

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